Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Matt Keating at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/14/10

This could have been a savagely cynical alternative to the glut of lame Valentine’s shows – but that would have been easy, and predictable. Along with all the wit and the double entendres, there’s a bitterness in Matt Keating’s songwriting that often boils over into rage, sometimes repentant but sometimes not. Yet his Sunday evening show at the Rockwood wasn’t about that. Counterintuitively, backed by his wife Emily Spray on harmony vocals and the equally estimable Jon Graboff on pedal steel, Keating offered hope against hope. It made a good counterpart to the Chelsea Symphony’s alternative Valentine’s Day concert earlier in the day several blocks west.

The trio opened with the gorgeously sardonic anthem Candy Valentine, a big audience request that he doesn’t often play – it’s sort of his Saint Stephen (Grateful Dead fans will get the reference). Switching to piano, Keating evocatively painted an unromantic Jersey tableau in tribute to the late Danny Federici, the vastly underrated original organist in Springsteen’s E Street Band. Back on guitar, Keating threw out another pensive tableau, then picked up the pace with the decidedly unrepentant,upbeat country song Wrong Way Home. The high point of the night, and one of the few moments that actually wasn’t a surprise, was Lonely Blue. It built slowly, ambient Graboff versus incisive Keating guitar, Spray channeling Lucinda Williams but with twice the range and none of the alcohol – she was that good. The song’s unhinged alienation rose as the instruments built tensely to a sledgehammer crescendo that transcended the presence of just the two instruments and voices onstage – Keating is known for fiery, intense performances and this was characteristic. They brought it down after that, closing with the warily optimistic Louisiana, a standout track from Keating’s 2008 Quixotic album, as well as 2007’s Summer Tonight, pedal steel enhancing the song’s bucolic sway. Keating’s characters seldom get what they want – this time they got a little and the audience, silent and intent between songs, got a lot.

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February 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 10/11/09

Jenifer Jackson is back. Not that she ever stopped playing or writing songs – the good news is that her self-imposed exile in Austin is over and she’s returned to Gotham. Sunday evening’s set mixed quiet triumph with some aptly chosen late-summer mood pieces along with some of the tremendously impactful new songs she’s been working up over the last few months. If you haven’t seen Jackson in awhile and you think you know her, the answer is that you really don’t – whether she’s working harmonies off the melodies of audience favorites like Summer’s Over or End of August, or emphasizing  the tropical feel (or the rock feel) of an older number, she’s grown to the point where it’s always a crapshoot where she’ll end up. The only given is that it’ll be a good place.

As much a triumphant homecoming as this may have been, pianist Matt Kanelos underscored everything with a gritty chordal tension, completely in sync with the restlessness, unease and occasional outright angst of Jackson’s songwriting. His gentle honkytonk work on the rather sweet country ballad The Beauty in the Emptying (on Jackson’s forthcoming album) contrasted with the clenched-teeth insistence of the somewhat ironically titled Let the Times Roll (another unreleased, hypnotic gem), the ominously minimalist Groundward and the menacing Blair Witch imagery of Maybe, which was definitely the most intense song of the set.

To end the show, Jackson put down her guitar and over Kanelos’ crisp and incisive chords, put her own spin on I Say a Little Prayer for You. She may have learned it from the very first album she ever owned, Aretha Now – “For the longest time I thought that was her name,” Jackson revealed – but her interpretation was a whole lot more bossa than brass and played up its nuances for all they were worth. She’s back at the Rockwood in November and you ought to see her there.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 5/26/09

Yet another reminder of how the true test of a performer is how they hold up under less than ideal circumstances. In this case Jenifer Jackson was battling some nasty but hopefully short-acting bug, sweating and rallying and ultimately coming out victorious – if she hadn’t told the crowd, hardly anyone would have noticed. Jackson has gotten a lot of ink here and will continue to, because she’s criminally underrated: plainly and simply, most of the songwriters on her level are either dead (Lennon, Jobim, Arthur Lee) or in the accepted canon (Lou Reed, Loretta Lynn, Gamble & Huff). Those references are deliberate because Jackson either draws on or has a song or three resembling all those greats. This show was mostly a mix of newer material from her next cd, which is inching tantalizingly toward completion. Like her most recent song titles – Time, Words, Maybe – she’s mining a strikingly terse, richly lyrical, melodically simple yet minutely jewelled vein. And though visibly struggling, she still toyed with her vocal melodies with an otherwise effortless expertise, harmonizing off her usual vocal line or, at the end of the show, finally breaking into a soaring wail.

Backing her this time out were longtime bandmates Oren Bloedow (of the magnificent Elysian Fields) on guitar and the equally haunting, tasteful Matt Kanelos (who has a brilliantly subtle new album of his own out) on piano as well as her longtime drummer Greg Wieczorek AKA G Wiz who joined her on the last few songs of the set. The newest material continued to be the most impressive: the sadly resolute 6/8 country ballad The Beauty in the Emptying; a jazzier take on early 70’s Carole King, with a cautionary note to seize the day; a hypnotic, Velvets-ish version of the completely un-bluesy Let the Good Times Roll (another carpe diem theme); an absolutely riveting, minimalistically ominous version of the forthcoming Groundward and the best song of the set, Maybe, Bloedow adding a soulful energy to the lyric’s stoic resignation via a masterful series of slides and bends. If the new album is anything like what she played at this show, it’s a serious contender for best of the year in whatever year it comes out. Watch this space for upcoming New York dates.

May 29, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Images from Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 3/24/09

A photoblogger’s dream. In lieu of actual photos, some indelible moments:

 

Elysian Fields guitarist Oren Bloedow, a longtime Jackson bandmate, grinning ear to ear as he launches into a warm succession of chords straight out of Nashville, 1966. Not what you’d expect from the leader of a brooding, noir downtown art-rock band…

 

– Jackson‘s songs tend to be soft, but she punishes her guitar strings. There’s a moment during a newer one, Let the Good Times Roll (nothing like B.B. King – or the Cars) where she holds down the rhythm during an instrumental break, bending over, wailing on the strings, hair all up in her face like Courtney Love. Who is sort of the opposite of Jenifer Jackson.

 

– Pianist Mattt Kanelos, completely unrehearsed, all deadpan as he does the smart thing – playing one beat behind the band – as they launch into the old doo-wop hit La La Means I Love You.

 

– Jackson singing those la-las with real feeling. After all she’s been through – if her lyrics are any indication – she’s still a believer. Back for another ride through hell.

 

– “Plain, fancy, plain,” Bloedow reminding the troops about how to make the music match the vocals on the song’s outro as they launch into an audience request, the Beatlesque When You Looked at Me, from Jackson’s first full-length album, from ten years ago. Has it really been that long?

 

– Jackson looks down as she launches into the chorus of the restless yet ambient Groundward, telegraphing where the song is going. Most of the crowd don’t know the song yet – lots of folks who weren’t there at her March 10 show. They will sooner than later. They’re rapt. They miss the singer who used to play just about every week around here. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates. 

April 1, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson and Juliana Nash at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 3/10/09

A welcome return appearance by two very different, very conspicuously absent songwriting sirens. Jenifer Jackson has gotten a lot of ink here, justifiably: she’s simply one of the finest songwriters on the planet, someone who leaps effortlessly across boundaries, intermingling styles with a seemingly intuitive melodicism. Mixing old favorites with songs from a new cd which is three-quarters done, she said, she delivered a typically captivating set, playing her first three songs solo on guitar.

 

She opened with an unreleased, fetchingly catchy Americana pop number, In Spring: “Time goes fast, living in the past, maybe love will come again in spring,” she sang in her signature warm, wistful voice. On both of the next two songs, We Will Be Together and Whole Wide World, she waited til the last chorus and then improvised her way up the scale with not a little imploring and anguish and this was intense to say the least. 

 

Pianist Matt Kanelos then joined her on another new one, Words, a dark existentialist lament that transcends its pretty melody, contributing an aptly darkly glistening solo, Debussy meets Gershwin, when the time came. Jackson sang it impatiently: “Words, get out of my way, tripping me where I go…talk about the moment that is here!” The textural interplay between Kanelos’ sharp piano and Jackson’s warmly crescendoing fingerpicking was absolutely gorgeous in the relatively new, 6/8 ballad The Beauty in the Emptying.

 

The best songs of the set were dark, pensive new ones. “Yesterday the motion had no meaning, yesterday the seasons were careening,”  she related in the first, Groundward, ending up on a predictably brooding note: “Summer rain is falling.” The second, Maybe, was absolutely haunting, noir Bacharach-style bossa nova pop with a theme of restlessness, a recurrent topic in Jackson’s work. “Maybe this is as much sense as life will ever make,” she sang, half cynical and half resigned, Kanelos adding a brilliant, eerie chordal solo followed by Jackson’s la-la-la outro, ending unexpectedly and ominously with a minor-key flourish. The two encored with a hasty, happy-go-lucky cover of the old Delfonics’ doo-wop hit La La Means I Love You.

 

Juliana Nash is fondly remembered around these parts as the architect of the Pete’s Candy Store sound, and a den mom of sorts to scores of excellent New York acoustic bands who called the little Brooklyn bar home from the mid-90s to the early zeros. This was a striking reminder of how fun her own shows at her old home base used to be. A petite woman with a matter-of-fact, deadpan wit and a big, powerful soul voice, she told the crowd that this was her first-ever show featuring just guitar and piano (Kanelos back behind the keys again, unrehearsed but gamely following Nash’s smartly intiutive, catchy changes). Fighting off the rust (she hasn’t had many shows here in town recently), she held a lot in reserve tonight until the end of the show, working her way through a mix of pleasantly familiar, pensive, sometimes countryish pop songs. Like Jackson, she has an ear for a hook and an eye for a striking lyrical image: “Love’s a champion battleship, you need an ocean of tears to float it,” she lamented on the the blue-eyed soul ballad Love Is Heavy that opened the show. Another thoughtful ballad, Maybe Street, looked at life sardonically and metaphorically through the eyes of sisters named Hope and Joy. She used the pensive Built for Longing as an exercise in subtle shading rather than turning it into a big tour de force like she usually does.

 

She related a story of how she and Jackson many years ago celebrated a birthday by shoplifting a couple of tiaras out of a 99-cent store because they were too broke to afford them. And then launched into a hilarious and absolutely spot-on, somewhat Lou Reed-inflected riff-rock homage to the wee hours in New York: “It’s six AM and I’m drunk again, I turn incidents to habits,” she wailed gleefully. For anyone who’d ever walked home from the L at 14th St. after closing Pete’s, watching the newspaper trucks make their rounds, this hit the spot sweetly. She wrapped up the show with the passionate yet wary rocker Tiny Belladonna (written about her daughter), a darkly beautiful, elegaic number where she cautioned that “It’s ok not to be everything we thought we would be when we were young,” and another soul-inflected ballad, Everlasting Ache where she paced herself until the end before finally cutting loose with that voice of hers. And then encored with the tongue-in-cheek Rocks in Your Head, something she’d pulled fortuitously from the archives. Jenifer Jackson is back at the Rockwood on Mar 24 at 8; watch this space for Juliana Nash sightings.

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jenifer Jackson Interview

One of the great songwriters of our time, Jenifer Jackson is arguably the prototypical multistylistic rock goddess. A seemingly perpetual traveler, originally from New Jersey, then Massachusetts, she made her mark in New York, releasing six superb albums over the last ten years. A cult artist who’s widely esteemed by her colleagues and owns a considerable European following, she was gracious to give Lucid Culture a few minutes to discuss her upcoming New York shows on March 10 and 24 at Rockwood Music Hall along with a few odds and ends:

 

Lucid Culture: You’re doing two shows at the Rockwood. You seem to like that place.

 

Jenifer Jackson: The Rockwood and Joe’s Pub are my two favorite venues in NYC. Ken Rockwood has created such a comfortable and great sounding room, and the atmosphere is attentive and friendly! It’s the perfect, intimate place to come home to. My shows there are always very emotional for me, in a good way! Heartwarming…

 

LC: Who are you playing with this time around?

 

JJ: Matt Kanelos will play piano on a few tunes with me and on the 24th, Oren Bloedow will be with me. I may also have another special guest!

 

LC: Do you miss New York?

 

JJ. Very much. I miss the musicians and the listeners and all my friends. However, I’m sitting on my porch, in a t-shirt and shorts right now, on February 11…..so I do not miss the COLD winters in NYC…..

 

LC: What’s the most striking difference between your new hometown and New York?

 

JJ: This is a trick question. Austin has better tacos. NYC has better pizza.

 

LC: Could you see yourself in Austin for awhile or are you feeling restless already?

 

JJ: Always restless. Searching for the place, or way, to feel settled! Perhaps it isn’t in my nature, though I seem to desire it. I am always seeking.

 

LC: Restlessness is a recurring theme in your writing – and you seem restless with any one particular style of music. Can you explain?

 

JJ: OH! I am not really restless with styles. I like a lot of styles, and many seep into my writing and composing. My staples are bossa nova, and that 60’s pop beat……

 

LC: Over the course of your career, you’ve played Beatlesque pop, trip-hop, pretty straight-up oldschool country, Nashville gothic, bossa nova, jazz, noir 60s rock and Philly soul. What other genres haven’t you written in yet? What intrigues you the most at this point?

 

JJ: I go with my emotions — my newest song is a bit of a raga! Perhaps remnants from my old block in New York, East Sixth Street [Indian restaurant row]….

 

LC: Your most recent cd The Outskirts of a Giant Town is actually a live album, recorded in the studio. Did you have any trepidation doing it oldschool like that, realizing that any imperfection would require a second or third take, etc.?

 

JJ: Absolutely not. It was my DREAM to record this way, with such excellent musicians, capturing all the spontaneity and working off each other, as we do live.

 

LC: How many takes did it typically take to get a song down, and did you cut and paste at all?

 

JJ: One or two. No real cutting and pasting.

 

LC: Would you want to take a risk like that again and do another live-in-the-studio album?

 

JJ: Yes. It is a luxury for me to work that way. The record I am making now is more bit by bit, since that is what is possible where I am now. It’s a more standard approach, which is fine.

 

LC: Can we go back in time a ways, to the roots of maybe where you got all those styles? Did you grow up in a musical family? Your dad Julian Jackson, for example, is a dj on WOMR-FM in Provincetown, MA, and also appears with you on the father-daughter collaboration Together in Time.

 

JJ: I listened and sang to my dad’s albums while growing up. Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and then I discovered Neil Young. Later, in college, I began singing and learning about jazz.

 

LC: You’re also a painter. Are there common elements to creating visual art and writing music?

 

JJ: I just paint for fun! But with both writing music and painting, I attempt to distill an object, a person, an emotion to its most essential element. I try to be as simple as I can, to find images that can evoke, and at the same time, remain simple.

 

LC: Which came first, the painting or the music?

 

JJ: It was simultaneous.

 

LC: One of your songs has the line “I made a lot of money from some paintings that I sold.” Done that lately?

 

JJ: No…I procrastinate…I have wanted to have a business of painting pet portraits.  I have painted many, many! For friends, as gifts. Once a guy did offer me a bunch of money for some landscapes, but I decided not to sell them, since I kind of got attached to them.

 

LC: You’ve been writing what seems like a ton of songs lately, and as usual, you’re all over the map. One of them is a really pretty, quiet 6/8 ballad called The Beauty in the Emptying. I understand that’s about cleaning the junk out of your apartment before you moved to Texas?

 

JJ: Hee hee, I did say that at a show, but that is a bit of an OVERsimplification! It was about the throwing away that lightens a voyage. Literal and metaphorical.

 

LC: There’s another one, a big hypnotic anthem with a chorus that goes “let the good times roll,” nothing like the blues song. Can you comment on that one?

 

JJ: It’s upbeat and has a hook! Again, all about the endless seeking, restlessness, need for love, overactive brain. Suggesting to “let the good times roll” as a release from all the thinking and worrying.

 

LC: I understand you’ve been doing some recording over email, for example, with another new one, Words.

 

JJ: I have been recording in Austin with Billy Doughty, my drummer. We have pretty much done everything ourselves, with the addition of John Abbey  – my old bassist! – on it. We are about halfway done with the record.

 

LC: Vocally, you’ve been through a couple of phases as well. For example, on your first cd Love Lane you were going for more of an electric rock feel, and you belted a lot more than you do now; then there was a point, I think about 5-6 years ago when you seemed to really want to wail and project with your voice. Lately you’ve been sticking with a quieter, softer vocal delivery, as you have throughout most of your career. Was that a conscious choice? Does it give you more leeway, to create dynamics?

 

JJ: I love dynamics, and I love sensitivity. It’s been an evolution for me, and my bandmates. I still try to have a few rockers even if they are now soft rockers!!!

 

LC: You’re a terrific guitar player. I can tell because you usually close your eyes when you sing and you never look at your fingers. You also like different tunings. Where first inspired you to do that, and do you have a favorite out of all of them?

 

JJ: Thanks – I just use a regular tuning, sometimes I drop my low E string to a D, then forget to retune it for the next song!

 

LC: Was guitar your first instrument? I know you also play keys…

 

JJ: Piano was first, guitar second, drums third.

 

LC: Any timetable for the new cd?

 

JJ: Do not know…

 

LC: Do you have a theme or a concept for it?

 

JJ: Something about the beauty being in the spaces in between.

 

LC: Who are some of the players you’re working with at the moment?

 

JJ: Here in Austin I work with Billy Doughty on drums and melodica and an upright player named Chris Jones. Back in New York I work with Oren Bloedow [from Elysian Fields], Greg Wieczorek [Joseph Arthur, the Autumn Defense], Matt Kanelos, and up in Boston with the wonderful Sonny Barbato [brilliant jazz accordionist and composer].

 

LC: You know, there’s still a big fan base for you here, every time I say “Jenifer Jackson” people go “OMG, she’s so good, I can’t believe she’s not famous.” And while you’re admired by your fellow musicians, somehow you’re still not famous. Does that bother you? I know you’re a Leo…

 

JJ: Yes, it bothers me. And yes, I am a Leo. I keep wishing a manager would discover me and help master-mind a career for me…..

 

LC: I was talking about you once with one of the great songwriters of our time, and she said, “I wish Jenifer Jackson would write an angry song.” There’s a lot of melancholy in your writing, but I think the most pissed-off you ever got was that line “for god’s sake close the bathroom door.” To what degree is that a reflection of your personality?

 

JJ: I generally don’t like angry, venting songs, so I don’t choose to write them.

 

LC: Like most musicians, you’ve been a big Obama supporter. Is the honeymoon over, or do you still have hope?

 

JJ: I still have hope. I am so relieved to have a President with a brain. Although I am very worried about what he’s thinking he’s doing in Afghanistan.

 

LC: What are you listening to these days? Here’s your chance to give some shout-outs to your favorite peeps…

 

KK: Chet Baker, compilations of Son Cubano, Tom Jobim and Elis Regina, Mason Jennings.

 

JJ: With the implosion of the major record labels, the struggles the indie labels are having – and not to mention how corporate most of the indies have become – what do you think the future holds for musicians like yourself who write in a style that used to rely on the radio to reach an audience? In other words, is there a future for pop music?

 

JJ: Oh god. I am the worst person to ask about this. I have always avoided the biz. And I am a terrible strategist.

 

LC: As a performer, you seem more carefree now than you were when I first saw you when you were first starting out. Is that true or are you just a better dissembler?

 

JJ: Just drinking more booze now. NO NOT REALLY, I guess I am just enjoying more and more and not concerned about anything but the music and the feeling!

 

LC: There’s a lot of solace and comfort in your writing, and your voice. Where do you find solace?

 

JJ: Nature, animals, the ocean, playing and singing, dancing….

 

LC: I understand you’ve become infatuated with those miniature horses they have down where you are. Is that true?

 

JJ: Yes. I recently met three mini-horses, and one fell in love with me. It’s very unconventional, I know.

 

LC: Going back to your time in Massachusetts, do you give a damn about what the Red Sox are doing or aren’t doing, or are you too much of an esthete to care about that kind of silly stuff?

 

JJ:  I don’t follow them! But my accordionist, Sonny Barbato, is a HUGE FAN. Shall I ask him for a comment?

 

LC: Definitely!! Sonny KNOWS the Sox!

 

Sonny Barbato: After trailing the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS, the Red Sox won the next four games including the last two at Yankee Stadium. They eventually swept St. Louis to win the World Series. In 2007 they won again. They can do whatever they want from now on, I am content and completely satisfied.

 

Jenifer Jackson plays Rockwood Music Hall on March 10 at 8 PM and then again at 8 PM on March 24.

February 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 10/14/08

We’ve covered several of Jenifer Jackson’s shows here before: in case you remember them, this one was characteristically good, yet different (see our index for the full list of ‘em). Moving to Austin seems to have been the right decision for her: she’s always been a captivating performer, but she seems more carefree now onstage and that ironically gives her the opportunity to really let loose the darkness in her songs. Not everything she does is dark: she loves tropicalia and bossa nova and consequently much of her ever-growing repertoire is sunny and summery, but there’s also a substantial portion that’s stormy, or pensive, or downright white-knuckle intense. Last night’s show was a mix of everything. Lots of new material. She made it a point of prefacing one of the unrecorded numbers: “I don’t ordinarily tell what a song is about. I let the audience figure it out,” she explained in characteristically inscrutable fashion, then played a very pretty, plaintive 6/8 number, The Beauty in the Emptying. It could mark the end of an affair, but as she’d explained, it was actually about clearing out all the junk at her old East Village apartment before the move.

 

High point of the night: “Here’s an old one,” she laughed, launching into the somewhat hypnotic, 6/8, countryish ballad After the Fall, from her 2002 cd Birds:

 

Love is an ocean

Love is a stone

Love is a wish that

You make on your own

If all of these ghosts would just

Leave me alone

I know that I would be free

 

She’d brought along her main man Billy Doughty, who played drums smartly and tersely on a single floor tom before switching to piano on one song. Then she brought up Matt Kanelos – who hadn’t played with her in a few years – to take over the keys. He played as well as Doughty had, with an equally pointed incisiveness. Their first song together was another new one, Let the Good Times Roll (NOT the old blues standard), an apprehensive, backbeat-driven anthem set off by a tasty descending series of chords. “The sign says, baby, let the good times roll,” Jackson sang, but it was with one eye looking over her shoulder: disappointment could be just around the corner. Then she changed things up with the blithe, upbeat ballad In Spring, the first of several that Kanelos had never played with the band and he absolutely nailed it. But that song is pretty intuitive: the next one, Breathe, wasn’t, but he nailed that one too, choosing his spots amidst the nooks and crannies of Jackson’s expansive guitar chords.

 

While she was in New York, Jackson maintained a busy schedule, playing several times a month, ironically making it easy to take her for granted. Now that she’s gone, every time she comes back is a special occasion. Moral of the story: don’t miss your favorite performers, they too may be gone before you know it. No telling when Jackson’s back in town (she’s made it back every few months since leaving); Kanelos plays a set of his own stuff at the Rockwood on Nov 7 at 7 PM.

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Lenny Molotov Live at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/16/08

Lenny Molotov is the greatest guitar-god songwriter you’ve never heard of. Actually, you probably have: he plays lead guitar in Randi Russo’s band. But his own work is just as good. Richard Thompson is the obvious comparison: technically, Molotov is equally breathtaking, although long extended solo flights are not his thing. Perhaps even more than Thompson, Molotov seems to want to make every single note count for something, to make the music work perfectly in the context of the song. While Thompson’s fallback place is traditional British folk, Molotov draws most deeply from the murky well of oldtime delta blues, although he’s fluent in country and rock and, to at least some extent, jazz.

Tonight he reaffirmed why club owners like blues acts so much: for some reason, everybody drinks as long as the band is playing, if they’re not drinking already. Although Molotov and band didn’t hit the stage here til after one on the morning, they kept the crowd of Jersey tourists in the house throughout their long, almost two-hour set. Playing a mix of about 50/50 covers and originals, they impressed with the quality of their musicianship and Molotov’s clever, witty, lyrically-driven songs.

They opened with an eerie, minor-key blues chronicling the last few hours of a kid from the projects in Brooklyn who goes out to buy some weed, ends up being entrapped by an undercover cop, panics and shoots the cop and ends up killing himself in the wee hours after running out of options. One by one, Molotov enumerated the obstacles that tripped up the poor guy: “It’s too hard to be an outlaw anymore,” he lamented. Another equally chilling Molotov original, Faded Label Blues traced the decline of blues/jazz legend Hoagy Carmichael’s career. Molotov has a remarkable political awareness which made itself apparent in these two songs as well as a bouncy, uncharacteristically sunny, major-key tune titled the Devil’s Empire (as in “I saw the devil’s empire coming down”).

Their covers were just as good. Molotov’s version of St. James Infirmary Blues ostensibly stays true to the original, fast and driving. Backing Molotov were an upright bassist as well as violinist Karl Meyer and harmonica wizard Jake Engel. Meyer’s soaring, fluid country fiddle made an interesting contrast with Engel’s heavy artillery: the guy was channeling Big Walter Horton half the night, blowing eerie chromatics like he wanted to shatter the big plate glass window that serves as the front wall here. They finally wrapped it up at about 3 AM, the club owner still sitting on his perch at the sound board above the stage, carefully tweaking the sound throughout the show to make sure everything was crystal-clear. It’s hard to think of anybody else who cares so passionately about the sound in the room or who is as good at it as this guy is. We’re going to pay close attention to the Rockwood schedule from now on: if someone you like is playing here, don’t pass up the opportunity.

February 18, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments